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What’s the ruler’s dress called?

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Anna Furphy: Do you know what is the name of the white dress that the Huey Tlatoani and other emperors used to wear? I am refering to the white cloth tied on their shoulder. I am following the first page of the Mendoza Codex. (Answered by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Centre section of Page 2 of the Codex Mendoa showing the founding leaders of Tenochtitlan
Centre section of Page 2 of the Codex Mendoa showing the founding leaders of Tenochtitlan (Click on image to enlarge)

Yes! The famous page you refer to in the Codex Mendoza (actually it’s page 2) shows the founding of Tenochtitlan by the Mexica and contains a wealth of information on the city’s early history. Clearly shown - and named - are 10 of the the city’s founding dignitories, led by the warrior-priest Tenoch (the only one sitting, centre left, on a woven petate mat and with a speech glyph).

Tenoch in his tilmatli
Tenoch in his tilmatli (Click on image to enlarge)

They are all identically dressed, seated in the traditional Aztec male posture, wearing a white tilmatli ‘tightly wrapped about drawn-up legs’. Professor Manuel Aguilar-Moreno gives a full description of the tilmatli in his book Handbook to Life in the Aztec World:-

‘The tilmatli was also a draped garment and allowed the Aztec male individual the most opportunity for displaying wealth, status and rank. The tilmatli was a mantle that acted as a cape or cloak worn around the shoulders and the entire individual’s figure; a large tilmatli was called a quachtli (usually made of cotton). In the winter, a duck-feathered mantle provided warmth...

Each officer sports a tilmatli in this section of the Codex Mendoza, folio 65
Each officer sports a tilmatli in this section of the Codex Mendoza, folio 65 (Click on image to enlarge)

‘When the Aztec male sat on the ground, he pulled the tilmatli around his shoulders to cover his body and legs. Depending on the owner’s class, it was tied either over the righ shoulder (commoner) or in front so that the knot lay over the breastplate (noble). Typically, the tilmatli and the quachtli were worn as garments; however, during the winter, these garments covered beds in the household. Each commoner owned two or three; nobles probably owned many more. The importance of the tilmatli to the Aztec wardrobe proved so vital that this garment was traded as currency. Slaves could be bought for 30 quachtli; slaves who could sing and dance could be bought for 40 quachtli.

‘The Aztec government dicatated rigid laws regarding how the tilmatli could be worn. Commoners could only wear the tilmatli to their knees; warriors could wear the tilmatli to their ankles only if they had wounded their legs in battle and needed to protect themselves from further harm. Otherwise, noblemen and rulers alone could wear the tilmatli to their ankles.’

Information from -
Handbook to Life in the Aztec World by Manuel Aguilar-Moreno, Facts on File, New York, 2006
The Essential Codex Mendoza by Frances F. Berdan and Patricia Rieff Anawalt, University of California Press, London, 1997

Picture sources:-
Scanned from our copy of the James Cooper Clark 1938 facsimile edition of the Codex Mendoza (original in the Bodleian LIbrary, Oxford), London

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Mexicolore replies: You’re welcome, Anna. Yes, please send us the finished piece!